Submitted by Jonathan Lawson on Tue, 03/03/2015 - 15:48
Could Facebook help to build bridges between societies around the world? Could it even hold the key to understanding our feelings of love, or really help us find our perfect match?
Smart phones and social media have had a big effect on the way people interact and form relationships. At the 21st Cambridge Science Festival (9-22 March), human psychologist Dr Alex Kogan will share research suggesting that our Facebook friends have more influence on us than the places that we live or our local communities.
In the event What your Facebook says about you, on Tuesday 10 March, Dr Kogan, will reveal how his team are combining advances in genetic sciences and mobile technologies – using phone apps and Facebook – to discover changes in the way we share our thoughts and feelings. He will also examine the impact that electronic communications are having on the structures of human societies.
Dr Kogan works to understand why humans feel the need for shared interactions and why, in a highly competitive world, we still feel the need to show kindness, and even develop close emotional relationships. Asked about the potential benefits of his work, he said: “Virtually everything we do is affected by those around us—who we are, how we act, who we will become, etc. So there’s no way to understand ourselves without understanding these interactions.”
Understanding the minds of others, and even ourselves, has long been a major goal in human self-exploration and remains one of the greatest challenges facing scientists in the 21st century. Dr Kogan commented: “There are just so many parts in the human brain that in many ways it represents the ultimate puzzle.”
For researchers, like Dr Kogan, Facebook represents a valuable research tool; a vast collection of information about the interests, beliefs and personalities of over 890 million people in societies all around the world. He said: “Facebook data is allowing us to overcome the age-old problem of needing to ask people questions to know what’s going on in their heads – now we can infer it from their behaviour, to a certain extent. This is helping us understand how much of a role our social environments play in shaping who we are.”
Using a team of volunteers, Dr Kogan has begun work to examine what social media can tell us about our past experiences, family history and even about our genes. Asked about his discoveries from social media, he commented: “… for example, we find that, for people in the US, Facebook friends have about 50 times more impact than the State they inhabit. Facebook friends also have around 10 times more influence than the town people live in.”
Other Cambridge Science Festival 2015 events exploring human psychology include:
- Tuesday 10 – What is the point of playing? Uncovering the important role that play plays in social development and what would happen if schools were to stop children playing.
- Wednesday 11 – There is more to touch than meets the eye: the role of touch in consumer behaviour. A revealing look at how retailers use the sense of touch to change the way we perceive and feel about their products.
- Saturday 14 – The multiple faces of the brain. One of many drop-in events at the Cambridge Guildhall, challenging visitors with illusions and examining how our bodies and brains interact.
- Sunday 22 – Health psychology lab. A chance for visitors to get involved in psychology studies and learn more about themselves along the way.